amwriting, anthologies, books, craft, creative writing, criticism, crowdfunding, ediotrs, editing, feedback, Fifteen Minutes, publishing, Rattle Tales, short stories, short story collections, The Brighton Prize, writing
I am currently co-editing an anthology of short fiction. I also supplement my paltry writers’ income with freelance editing projects. I’m not a proof reader; the edits I offer are structural, though I will pick up on any punctuation that has gone awry. Editing is something I enjoy. The idea of helping a writer to perfect their work makes me happy but I also find that editing other people’s work makes me a better writer. Editing not only raises my awareness of common writing pitfalls, it also reminds me to put away the resistance to criticism that all writers experience.
I’ve been lucky enough to have been on the receiving end of dedicated and improving edits for both my books. Uppermost in my mind is my collection of short stories, Fifteen Minutes, which has recently undergone several in-depth edits with Unbound Publishing. This was an amazing learning curve and the book is vastly improved as a result. When the first edit arrived I opened a manuscript which was literally covered in red marks and comments. My editor had forewarned me that this was normal in her email but even so it was quite a shock. I have had short stories edited professionally before, for publication in journals like Rip Tide and The Manchester Review. The editors of those journals did brilliant job and, yes, each manuscript was covered in crossings out, with sentences shifted and lengthy comments inserted. Again, I was a bit shocked by the extent of the mark-ups. For a moment I wondered if the writing was any good after all.
This seems to be a common experience for most writers. When faced with a manuscript covered in mark-ups and comments we tend to take it personally. The self-doubt nags, we mutter things under our breath like, ‘obviously they haven’t read it properly,’ and, ‘they wouldn’t know a joke if it got up and bit them.’ What we forget is that as writers we can become too immersed in a piece to see the flaws and the gaps. The writing is obviously great or it wouldn’t have been selected for publication. However, the editor has read it more closely than anyone else ever will. Their mark-ups don’t mean that the writing isn’t good, just that as the writer we have become too used to what we have written. We think that because we can picture it in our head our readers will be able to too. This is not always the case. If an editor points something out as not being clear, and you have to use a paragraph to explain to them why it is clear, the editor is right and you are not.
Obviously editors are not infallible. This is why they often work in pairs. The first edit of Fifteen Minutes suggested alterations that the second editor then suggested should be changed back. At this point it was up to me to decide which worked best. Often it was the original – but not always – sometimes it was something completely different. You can always negotiate. If you truly believe that your piece is better without the changes, that the reader you have in mind will know exactly what you mean, then go ahead, argue your case. What is interesting is that as you progress in your career you will get comments such as ‘still not clear’ from a professional editor a third or fourth time no matter how much you plead. If this happens you have no choice but to adhere to their suggestion. If you are arguing about the placement of commas and the cutting of single words you are being too precious. Go with what the editor suggests; it’s what they do for a living. They know what they are talking about. The real shock will come when you get your proofs back and realize you know nothing about punctuation!
For further information on my freelance editing services please email email@example.com I specialize in shaping up short stories for publication or competition but I have edited full-length manuscripts from children’s books to spy thrillers.
I had a letter printed in The Guardian this weekend. It wasn’t my first but it will probably be my last. It all stemmed from Hello Dolly! a fashion shoot they published in honour of this year’s Glastonbury Queen, Dolly Parton. They printed several glossy pictures of a tall, thin and very beautiful young woman in a blonde curly wig wearing cow-girl shirts and country dresses. There were cowboy boots and rhinestones aplenty but rather surprisingly I thought, for a Dolly tribute, there were no discernable breasts. Their model was cigarette-shaped. It looked wrong. Dolly wouldn’t have been able to do up any of the clothes on show. I showed it to my husband and said, ‘There are a couple of things missing from this photo-shoot.’ He laughed aloud. It was a good line. I felt compelled to give it to a wider audience. I was also a bit annoyed with The Guardian for resorting to the usual ultra-thin type rather than using someone short and curvy like the woman herself. Now I know Dolly’s aren’t real, she’s like a pencil with airbags, but surely they could have found someone a bit more pneumatic. There must be some curvy models out there. Would they have taken clothing inspired by Twiggy and stretched it over a 34GG model? I don’t think so. I shouldn’t be surprised I suppose, their attempt at fashion inclusion, the regular ‘All Ages’ feature, consists of five very thin women who sometimes have grey hair. ‘What’s wrong with breasts?’ I thought, feeling a bit self-conscious. The truth is women are getting weightier and so are their breasts. Do we really only want to see stick-thin models in magazines? Isn’t there room for a bit of variety? I crossed my arms in front of my chest and emailed this, (it’s hard but not impossible!)
I notice there are a couple of things missing from your Hello Dolly! fashion shoot. A wasted opportunity to use a shorter curvier model perhaps, rather than the predictable cigarette-shaped one.
They published this,
There was something missing from your Hello Dolly! fashion shoot (28 June): a wasted opportunity to use a shorter, curvier model, rather than the predictable cigarette-shaped one.’
I’m not going to talk about the grammatical error in their version, which implies that a wasted opportunity is missing from their fashion shoot. My punctuation isn’t strictly correct either, it’s shorthand, but do we have to get all Michael Gove about a jokey email? What bothers me is the removal of all reference to Dolly’s guns. In replacing ‘a couple’ with ‘something’ they have taken the humour out of the original comment and made me sound like a boring PC moaner. Not only did they leave breasts out of the original fashion shoot, now they have surgically removed them from my correspondence. I’ll say it again, ‘what’s wrong with breasts?’ I’ve got them and so have a lot of other people. Some people have small ones, some big, some medium sized. Mine are much bigger than they were when I was a whispy youth. I like to see this as a little trade-off for the middle-aged spread which is, er, spreading. I’m quite proud of them in fact; they are a big part of me, though sometimes they do get in the way when I’m eating.
I posted my disappointment on Facebook and one friend told me his father had had several letters published, on which he had worked on for hours to find the right bon mots, only to discover that all the humour had been edited out. Another complained that an obituary he had written about a comedian had had a fart joke removed. Come on broadsheets where’s your sense of humour? See how easy it is to destroy meaning with a little over-zealous editing? Is ‘a couple’ really so offensive that it can’t appear in the letters page? In the second paragraph of her article in the same magazine, Caitlin Moran uses the word ‘cunt’; surely ‘a couple’ wouldn’t cause offense in such a liberally-minded publication? Perhaps I should have used an even more ambiguous word. I asked my friends for suggestions of words for breasts and this is what they said:
Boobs, tits, bazonkas, spaniels ears, norks, boobies, Womble’s noses, mammaries, airbags, lady-pillars, Bristols, jubblies, knockers, puppies, dugs, thrupennies, grab-bags, titties, hooters,milk-sacks, golden-bozos, dumplings, baps, rack, wabs, booblets, gazongas, bamboons, Bunty’s, ta-tas, lungs, melons, bosoms, fun-bags, Tas-maps, curtain-raisers, crowd-pleasers, jugs, Chinese rocks, Welsh hills, wangers, zeppelins, orbs of joy, breasticles and of course, a couple of things, but never just something!
David Garnett, editing, Exeter University, Lady Into Fox, litereature, Michael Rosen, motherhood, Mrs. Fox, rejections, Riptide Journal, Sarah Hall, short stories, submissions, suburbs, Threshold's Short Story Forum, University of Chichester
Just checking in to say that I have had two things published this week This goes some way to making up for all the rejection in my ‘year of submitting to everything.’ My short story Grimaldi has been included in the fabulous Riptide Vol 10 – Imagining The Suburbs. It’s a nasty little tale about mental illness or actual demonic dragons (take your pick). In the foreword Michael Rosen says, ‘these fascinating stories and poems show a diversity that resists’ the picture of the suburbs as “one culture, one class, one type of house’. I am very proud to be part of a collection that resists monoculture!
I am also thrilled that Threshold’s Short Story Forum has printed my essay on Sarah Hall’s BBCNSSA winner Mrs. Fox. I absolutely loved Hall’s story and wanted to find out about the controversy around it’s similarity to the novella Lady Into Fox. Both journals were an absolute pleasure to work with and it was a brilliant experience to see my work properly edited. I feel like a real grown up writer.